By David Anderson, president, Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association
Two days before the New Year, a headline read “State 911 agency wasted $700K; leader, oversight questioned”, that agency being “an obscure state office at Camp Murray”.
Obscure no more, especially to its closest neighbors – Tillicum residents – who lost their court battle against the Washington Military Department (WMD) over the latter’s relocation of its main entry gate impacting the small community’s interior streets, the WMD was also the subject of a KING 5 investigative report earlier this year.
That February 24th KING 5 headline read “Widespread misuse of equipment found at state agency”.
Turns out employees at the WMD’s Emergency Management Division at Camp Murray were using government computers for personal use during work hours.
WMD’s Director of Public Affairs, Rick Patterson, who cancelled a scheduled interview with KING 5 and instead issued a written statement, claimed that the agency’s own investigation believed the violations insignificant.
KING 5 found otherwise, uncovering employees working on – during public payroll time – farm and wine businesses; a complete home remodel; three years of college homework; dozens of employees storing personal financial records; employees with complete music and photo libraries; employees playing video games, like Farmville, solitaire and simulated hunting games; and one employee, a Search and Rescue Coordinator, had 4,660 “favorite” websites bookmarked on his work computer, the majority non-work related.
The actual ‘work-related’ responsibility of the employees of the Emergency Management Division at this obscure outpost, is to manage emergencies as opposed to say managing their finances; coordinate disaster resources, not watch Seahawks football; deal with earthquakes and snowstorms and tsunamis, not shoot simulated white-tailed deer, peruse stock trade spreadsheets or consult dating services.
Hardly insignificant, the “volume of personal data on state equipment contributed greatly to hard drive failures, servers filling up and the introduction of viruses into the system” claimed IT staff who called it “a massive problem”.
Now, 10 months later, Jim Mullen, director of the WMD’s Emergency Management Division, when questioned where $700,000 went said “This hasn’t ever happened before. It’s unacceptable to happen once. It’s unthinkable we would let it ever happen again.”
But it did.
What monetary value, after all, do we place on government-paid employees’ time when it’s used to play online games, balance personal checkbooks, study Spanish? When computers crash, hard drives fail, viruses infect systems – is there not just an ethical but also a financial cost?
And given these examples by this obscure office of “ill-conceived technology projects,” and misappropriation of time and funds, what shall we make of the rationale passed off on the pissed-off public with regards the WMD’s expenditure of $4.7M for its evidence-shown-to-be-need-not-